Ranked: The Super Bowl Halftime Show from Worst to Best

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From Nipplegate to “Halftime on Ice,” a look at football’s weirdest intermission.

Janet Jackson

Oh, the halftime show. A chance for the die-hard game watchers to sober up and get something to eat, while the rest of the party enjoys an absurd musical spectacle. This Sunday, America will gather to watch Super Bowl XLV, and as we prepare for the smoke machines, choreographed groups of dancing children, and Black-Eyed Peas, we thought we’d take a look back at the last twenty years of halftime shows. (Because before that, it was more marching bands, and less hydra-like musical superbeast. And what fun is that?)

20. Super Bowl XXVIII (1994)

Rockin' Country Sunday
The Judds, Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt

I think there's a reason it's impossible to find a YouTube clip of this performance.

19. Super Bowl XXVI (1992)

Winter Magic
Gloria Estefan, Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill

Not even the ironic cheese factor makes ice skating on Teflon in the middle of a football game seem cool.

18. Super Bowl XXXIV (2000)

Tapestry of Nations
Featuring: Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Toni Braxton, Edward James Olmos.

Olmos' randomly placed heartfelt narration and the schmaltzy theme undermine the legitimate pop talent these four performers have to offer. Someone hand me that tapestry so I can suffocate myself with it.

17. Super Bowl XXV (1991)

A Small World Tribute to Twenty-Five Years of the Super Bowl
Featuring: New Kids On The Block, Disney Characters, small children

Every single child in this performance looks traumatized, but at least you can tell the Kids are singing live.

16. Super Bowl XXIX (1995)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
Featuring: Faux Indy and Marion, Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Bennett, Arturo Sandoval, Patti LaBelle

This was essentially just product placement for the new Indiana Jones attraction in Disneyland. Let’s keep our eye on the prize, people.

15. Super Bowl XXXVII (2003)

Featuring: Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting

No Doubt and Sting performed some tried and true classics, but Shania Twain and her Hot Topic-looking costume really bring this show's ranking down.

14. Super Bowl XXXIII (1999)

Celebration of Salsa, Soul & Swing 
Featuring: Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Chaka Khan, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Savion Glover

Not bad, just not very memorable. Like 1999 itself, come to think of it.

13. Super Bowl XXXI (1997)

Blues Brothers Bash
Featuring: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, James Belushi, ZZ Top, James Brown

James Brown makes this performance what it is. Without him, I couldn't really justify ranking a SNL skit (no matter how iconic) this highly. 

12. Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004)

Rock The Vote
P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, and her nipple

Hey, do you guys remember Kid Rock and Diddy's performances? Man, those were great.

11. Super Bowl XLII (2008)

Featuring: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Out of all the classic rock acts we've had in the last seven years of Super Bowl, Tom Petty's performance was the least exciting. 

10. Super Bowl XXXII (1998)

Salute to Motown's 40th Anniversary 
Featuring: Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Queen Latifah

Although there's no footage, I feel confident ranking this performance dead center. Queen Latifah sang "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and Boyz II Men did "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye (To Yesterday)." Enough said.

9. Super Bowl XXXV (2001)

The Kings of Rock and Pop
Featuring: Aerosmith, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Nelly, Mary J. Blige, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Chris Rock

Even without the personal soft spot I have for bubblegum pop, you have to admit this is a pretty serious combination of entertainers.

8. Super Bowl XXX (1996)

Take Me Higher: Celebrating 30 Years of the Super Bowl
Featuring: Diana Ross

Diana singing her own hits — plus classics of the soul canon — is always great. Points deducted, however, for arranging them all into one of those fast-changing, all-in-one medleys. A few points were added back for her exit via helicopter.

7. Super Bowl XXXIX (2005)

Featuring: Paul McCartney

Nipplegate is a tough act to follow, but Sir Paul did it gracefully and gave the FCC exactly what they wanted: classic G-rated entertainment. 

6. Super Bowl XLIV (2010)

Featuring: The Who 

What can I say about The Who? They're old, they're white, they're British, and they're legends. Fun for you and fun for your parents.

5. Super Bowl XL (2006)

Featuring: The Rolling Stones

Uh, see above — with the addition of Mick Jagger and some aged-torso thrusting.

4. Super Bowl XXXVI (2002)

9/11 Tribute 

Bono sounds really great live. He also at least tries to be inspiring and hopeful. These are pretty much the only things he needs to pull off a good 9/11 tribute performance.

3. Super Bowl XLIII (2009)

Featuring: Bruce Springsteen

The guac comment was over the top, sure. Still, it's Bruce! He's got energy! He's got a soul-patch! Plus, he knows what really completes a halftime performance: the excessive use of pyrotechnics.

2. Super Bowl XLI (2007)

Featuring: Prince 

Prince is the shining star of the post-boob FCC-controlled halftime-show world.

1. Super Bowl XXVII (1993)

Featuring: Michael Jackson

Before Michael's performance, the Super Bowl halftime show was a cute intermission your grandma tapped her velcro sneaker along to. After Michael, no halftime performance was complete without a superstar headliner and those beloved pyrotechnics. He changed the game, to say the least.